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One Last Bar…
Commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for the virtuoso percussion quintet Nexus, One Last Bar Then Joe Can Sing is a reflection on aspects of percussion history, both personal and musical, and treats virtuosity in terms of the subtle musicality of chamber music ensemble playing rather than as a form of showmanship. The piece starts from the “last bar” at the end of the first part of my opera Medea, a very short coda for a quintet of untuned percussion instruments. Eventually metal tuned instruments play aria-like material with bows, occasionally joined by the xylophone, and accompanied by marimba and xylophone ostinati. The piece ends with phrases being passed between three bowed metallophones, supported by tremolos on two marimbas. The piece is a kind of homage to the American instrument maker J C Deagan, and to the composer Percy Grainger whose imaginative and audacious use of percussion I have always admired. The family of keyboard percussion is, for me, as important a group as, say, the string family and equally capable of expressive playing. Indeed in Medea not only does the orchestra have no violins (the strings are from violas downwards), but the percussion section replaces, in effect, the more conventionally important violins.
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971) is one of my earliest pieces, and one which achieved popular acclaim through its various recordings.